Happy Summer Solstice! In case you don't know (and in all honesty it certainly crept up on me) today is the longest day of the year; the day in which we get the most hours of sunlight - midsummer, in other words. So I thought I'd take a chance to tell you about a few things I've been doing, as well as some more personal thoughts on summer feelings. That time of year we're all supposed to have a big smile plastered to our faces and spend every single sunny day we can outside laughing and squealing. We all know that isn't exactly the case, even though social media may make it seem to be so.
Last year, summer caught me in a mild state of anxiety, confusion, and what-the-f**k-am-I-doing-with-my-life. I was working in a pub, pulling pints three or four evenings a week to please rude people as they fell into a state of contented drunkenness. Needless to say, I hated it. I didn't always hate it, but I grew to hate it just as summer came around and I despised spending my evenings indoors in a stale beer smelling bar.
But my job wasn't the only reason I was sad. I was coming up to a year living in Manchester, had barely any friends who I connected with in the city (by my own doing), and still didn't really want to be there. A brief relationship breakdown and some more job rejections meant summer came when my head was in a deep, black hole, and I did nothing to attempt to dig myself out of it. Instead, I just worked and worked saving a pittance of money and making myself more miserable. I remember one happy day frolicking on the Yorkshire Coast with my sisters and Oslo, and then all I really remember is gloom. It probably doesn't help that the weather was notoriously crap last summer, but my continual bad mood was much more than that.
The summer before, I had been content in my own company. Heading out wild-camping alone or with my dog, exploring as many new places in the UK as I could, and generally spending all my time out of doors. My best friend and I spent six weeks backpacking around Italy; eating pizza, pasta and soaking in every ounce of Italian sunshine as we could. My older sister, Anna, and I became Scandinavian cycling around Copenhagen, we launched ROAM Magazine and enjoyed writing about past travels while planning new ones. I went bike-riding and mountain-biking with my little sister, Amira, and we spent four days on the Greek Island of Corfu, basking in sunshine and making hilarious memories as we hired a car and road-tripped to the North of the island, laughing and smiling all the way.
These were happy summer times that I won't forget. I definitely didn't know what the hell I was doing with my life, but I was ok about it. I was optimistic and excited about the future. At the end of that summer, I packed up all my belongings and moved my life to a little red-brick house in Manchester. The end of summer and the start of something new.
So now let's go back to last summer and why I was feeling so crap. I was restless and discontent with where I was, both in terms of location, career and relationship (or lack of). But I also wrongly believed that I needed all of these things for happiness, which meant that I didn't even try to drag myself out of the bad mood I was eternally stuck in. I didn't allow myself to do the things I love, the things that makes me feel alive, the things that I am passionate about. I didn't feel like Athena, just some shell of a human being doing whatever she had to do to not make any serious life decisions.
Then, towards the end of that summer, I was invited on a trip to Iceland with ROAM Magazine. In short, my bar job wouldn't let me go, so I quit and went anyway, embracing the opportunity to be a travel journalist in a country I had wanted to visit for years. Of course, that trip didn't allow me to snap miraculously out of the sadness I was feeling (I wrote about it here), but it was the first step I'd taken to change something in my life, to feel better.
When I got back, I started this blog, found a new service job (that, of course, I eventually grew to hate), and went to hike the West Highland Way to attempt to forget about the sad summer that had consumed me; to walk away my troubles, like Cheryl in Wild. I cried a lot on that journey, embraced the feeling of freedom and aloneness, and figured out a few things I wanted and didn't want in my life. Ironically, I also met someone at the end of that trip who I now get to call my boyfriend; like everything aligned so I would end up exactly where I needed to be for that to happen...
This isn't supposed to be a life story, I promise. Back to summer things... Winter this year was all about finding my feet. I embraced writing this blog, working on ROAM Magazine and Ramble Guides. I continuously ran away to Scotland to visit my boyfriend, simultaneously spending a lot of time outside with him or drinking hot chocolate in a cosy, little house. I realigned my mind to what I wanted, I swapped jobs again, I rediscovered my passions - and all of that so when summer came around this year, I was completely ready to embrace it without the sadness that had embraced me the year before.
Now, what I would like to say as midsummer arrives is, I'm okay.
Sometimes I'm more than okay, sometimes I'm not okay. But in general, I'm okay.
As the sun bears down and warms my skin, I can look up at it, close my eyes, and feel content.
You may have noticed that I've spent a lot of time down in Devon (still following my boyfriend around the country and loving every minute of it). I've fallen in love with surfing again, realised my dream to own a cabin in the woods, and decided whole-heartedly that I want to be an outdoor-travel writer (for now at least). I've thrown a lot of time and passion into this blog, attempted to improve my photography, and started teaching myself French in preparation for a trip to the Alps at the end of summer. I've spent a lot of time feeling terrified but alive while rock-climbing, got my first bouldering mat, and watched the sun set from numerous locations after an evening of good company, chalky hands and beautiful views. I've camped beside the sea and woken up to the sounds of crashing waves in the distance throughout the night, bathed naked in a stream, made banana pancakes for breakfast, and eaten fish and chips at 10pm after a long day out climbing until dark.
I've embraced summer wholeheartedly and passionately, determined to look back on this one and think of salty skin, tree-covered cabins, and diving head-first into the crazy but brilliant opportunities, people and memories that life throws at me.
And no, despite all of that, I'm not always okay. I have those days where I wish it was cloudy and grey so I can justify spending all day inside feeling a little bit teary and hollow.
But then there are those train journeys home from a week spent outside in the wild. My skin is dirty and sunburnt, my hair is a wild, salty nest on my head, and I have laughter tan lines from smiling so much in the sunlight. I don't read or write or sleep, I just sit for the whole three hour journey back home; thinking about life and how I ended up here, and watching the sun dip behind the horizon in a golden hue of orange and yellow.
Now we have reached Midsummer and I am okay. In fact, I am more than okay. I am happy.